Frontline Investigates Fantasy Sports: Big Business or Big Fun?

Fantasy Sports Kellie Freeze

Fantasy Sports

Did you place a few bucks on your office pool for the Super Bowl? Did you win your fantasy football league? Do you participate in one-day online drafts? PBS’ Frontline investigates fantasy sports in its newest documentary, The Fantasy Sports Gamble. Take a peek inside the world of daily fantasy sports, where Average Joe’s get a taste of pro-sports ownership by participating in short-term, high-stakes sports betting. In 2015, fans wagered an estimated $2.6 billion on an industry that is shrouded in secrecy and is seemingly devoid of oversight.

Critics say that fantasy sports wagering — which has helped some sports fans translate their love of the game into big bucks — amounts to gambling and should be regulated, but companies like DraftKings and FanDuel say it’s entertainment.

Now, daily fantasy sports is under fire as more and more attorneys general in states across the U.S. question its legality. This new Frontline documentary with correspondent Walt Bogdanich of The New York Times investigates the proliferation of online sports betting — from daily fantasy sports to the broader, underground online sports gambling industry (which saw an estimated $140 billion in illegal sports betting in 2014, despite laws meant to stop it).

Bogdanich, James Glanz and Augie Armendariz of The New York Times trace the growth of these booming businesses, go inside their operations at home and abroad, and reveal how online gambling laws have not only failed to stop the illegal sports betting business, but enabled the growth of the daily fantasy sports business.

Fantasy Sports
Design and build by Ly Chheng and Dan Nolan. © 2016 Frontline

“The daily fantasy sports industry as we now know it first emerged from a legal loophole created when Congress tried to shut down online gambling,” Bogdanich says. “The law, which was enacted with the support of the major U.S. sports leagues, made betting on sports illegal but created an exemption for fantasy sports — which, at the time, was a low-key, season-long pastime between friends.”

The investigation finds that in come cases, online sports betting has become a shadowy multinational enterprise — where someone can place an online bet from the middle of Manhattan with a company based in Panama, and have it show up on their credit card statement as a purchase with a company that sells goggles and hard hats. And when simply fin turns into money laundering, eventually the Feds will get involved and the legal ramifications of such fraud are anything but fantastic.

The Fantasy Sports Gamble > PBS > Tuesday, Feb. 9 at 10pm ET/ 9pm CT